Vonage rolls out full UK VoIP service

Aiming itself squarely at BT's small-business customers, the US Internet-telephony firm has finished training its staff on British 'peculiarities' and launched its service this side of the Atlantic

Vonage has officially launched its VoIP phone service in the UK after completing a 'soft launch' period which started in January.

Kerry Ritz, managing director of Vonage UK, told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com the company used the last five months to make sure the service was working properly and train the New Jersey-based customer service staff on British "peculiarities — things like post codes, UK phone number conventions and how to spell Welsh names".

The customer service staff will remain in New Jersey for the time being, said Ritz, though there is a chance of adding local support as the company's UK and European businesses grow.

Vonage offers a flat-rate residential phone service — £9.99 per month for unlimited local and national calls, low international rates and features such as caller ID and voicemail — as well as an £18.99 small-business offering that also includes a fax line.

The service requires a broadband Internet connection and a hardware adapter which can be purchased directly from Vonage's Web site or in Staples' stores across the UK starting in June.

Ritz said Vonage is in talks with other retailers in the UK and expects to roll out additional partnerships on an ongoing basis, a tactic that's worked well for the company in the US, where 20 percent of sales come via retail partners.

Customers can choose a phone number in up to 120 UK dialling codes as well as a virtual number in Canada or the US, a feature that's received positive feedback from UK small businesses, said Ritz, because they can take the number with them should they move office.

When asked whether he saw the popular Skype VoIP application, which recently passed the 100 million download mark, as competition, Ritz said: "Our business is positioned as a replacement phone service. You pick up the phone, dial normally and talk to anyone in the world. People tend to do other things while talking on the phone... they don't want to be tethered to a PC or have to speak on a headset."

Skype requires the use of a headset and a dedicated software application running on a computer.

"We're targeting the mass market," Ritz added. "We're interested in selling to aunties, grannies, parents and sisters — as opposed to being focused on a particular niche."

Because of this, Ritz explained, BT is its main competitor in the UK, as it has the majority of phone customers.

Ritz would not reveal how many customers Vonage has in the UK but the company says it's adding 15,000 each week in the three countries in which it now operates — Canada, the UK and the US — and boasts a total of more than 650,000 phone lines in the US.